Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wherefore art thou Scooby-Doo?

Who, me?
I suppose the first question that crossed your mind upon stumbling upon this blog and reading about my intended thesis for its initial phase is “Why?”. Or perhaps it's more along the lines of “What...?” or “Come again now?”. Well, hypothetical reader, I rather suspected you'd ask that, and you have good reason to. This is why this post exists: To hopefully provide background and adequate justification for my most assuredly bewildering first choice of case studies.

Scooby-Doo is not an especially deep series, textually speaking. I do not intend to pretend that it is. On the surface it would seem there is very little here that is worthy of serious academic scrutiny, beyond perhaps the typical rote historical parsing, especially for someone with as esoteric and jumbled credentials as I. That said, and this is the thing that will ultimately come to define a lot of what we say about Scooby-Doo, what the show actually symbolizes and represents, and how people react to and interpret those symbols and representations, is an actually very telling and fascinating thing indeed and makes the phenomenon that the franchise is a part of a genuinely intriguing dynamically shifting and evolving cultural artefact.

It is not so much, perhaps, that any of the myriad cultural assemblages and associations that have become a part of Scooby-Doo were actual things that any of the writers working on the show's various incarnations had planned (though I have a sneaking suspicion at least some of them were), but more that confluences of place, time, people and experience have consistently allowed Scooby-Doo to be uniquely poised to fill a needed literary and cultural niche at various points throughout its existence and make it very easy to read it any number of different and equally intellectually rich ways. This is also helped, maybe ironically, maybe not, by the same strict adherence to a programmatic style of children's television that it is so often derided for.

Put most frankly, Scooby-Doo is old enough, imitated enough and so deeply entrenched in the collective pop culture consciousness of so many Westerners it's developed a unique set of cultural affiliations and meanings that are just as much about how people remember it as they are about the show itself. And, if I may be so bold, there are elements and inklings to be found within Scooby-Doo that date to its very earliest forms that hint at something much darker, much more sophisticated, much more defiant and much more mesmerizing than anything that overtly made it onscreen. The show's legacy and pop perception may very well have eclipsed whatever merits it may have once had as a standalone bit of TV (to the point the show as it exists now basically runs solely on playing with this) and Scooby-Doo the phenomenon is a very interesting tract I should and will explore, but Scooby-Doo the singular work is not without merit.

I'll make no secret my personal history and affinity for this series was a deciding factor in picking it as my first case study. I unabashedly love Scooby-Doo, far more than any grown adult probably ought to: I'm the sort of person who actually goes out and buys the DVDs of each of the series. It was most assuredly one of the first television shows I watched religiously as a child and I have absolutely adored it ever since. Scooby-Doo's crowning achievement, at least at first, has got to be its carefully-crafted look-and-feel; responsible for an utterly unique and evocative atmosphere about which I'll undoubtedly have more than a few choice words to say. It's the kind of thing that leaves a lasting lifelong impression, at least it did to me. Believe it or not I found the characters all immediately memorable and likable, contrary to the popular notion that the only things anybody remembers or cares about from the show are Shaggy and Scooby-Doo himself (a dangerous mentality in my opinion, and one that on more than one occasion has threatened to derail the whole franchise). Most of all, the image of close friends travelling around together forever is such an unbridled bit of upfront Utopianism it's hard not to like.

Being a lifelong Scooby-Doo fan has oftentimes been very difficult, especially as the show has an unfortunate history of making cataclysmically wrongheaded decisions and was for most of its history in the hands of a notoriously mismanaged animation studio, but I've typically found something to like, or at least worthy of note, in every one of the show's myriad iterations. The fact that it's managed to successfully weather all of this and still exists in some form to this day, and will in all likelihood continue to exist for some time, is frankly an impressive feat and one matched by little else on television. Clearly Scooby-Doo is doing something right and has more going for it than meets the eye. And, starting next time, we're going to begin to try and parse out what that something might actually be.

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